Should children with special needs attend private schools with public money?

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Mar 7, 2012 No Comments ›› Admin

March 7, 2012

“Education isn’t something parents should have to fight for,” Susan recently told the Senate Education Committee.She testified in favor of a bill to use public money to send special education students to private schools.

Parents of special needs children came from all over the state to testify. Feelings were deeply divided. Some felt their special needs child would thrive in a private school that catered to just special needs students.Parents already enrolling their children in expensive academies wanted the state to pay part of the cost.

Other parents told success stories of their special needs children who thrived in public schools. They feared the special education vouchers for private schools would take money away from already cash strapped public schools. They also saw that private schools take only students with less severe disabilities; leaving more seriously disabled students to public schools.

The bill would give parents a $13,000 voucher for public funds to send their child to a private school. The money would come from state aid given to the student’s public school district. The public school would not get any more state aid.

Parents of any income level could take the voucher to any private school. The bill doesn’t limit how much money could be taken from the public school district. The districts would also be required to provide transportation to the private school no matter how far away.

Every group representing the disability and public education communities, including the Department of Public Instruction, opposed the bill.

Advocates for the disabled and public school students were concerned that draining resources to private schools would leave public schoolchildren without an adequate education. Public money could flow to private for-profit schools. Private schools follow fewer rules on care and education of students. Private schools could expel a student but public schools are required to educate all.

The committee heard testimony that private schools would not be required to follow some federal and state laws that protect special needs students.Private schools wouldn’t be required to provide needed services like physical or speech therapy.

Parents would have no recourse if individualized education plans were not followed. State discrimination laws would not apply to these private schools.  They would not be required to have certified teachers. Nor would they be required to follow the accountability standards – even those that apply to other private ‘voucher’ schools.

The Senate Education Committee has spent a great deal of time tightening standards and licensing for teachers. One advocate asked,“After all the discussion of licensing teachers, how can we possibly suggest teachers should not be licensed?” He said this bill pays for private schools“on the backs of the rest of the kids.”

The parents who came to Madison to testify for the bill face real problems. A recent survey of school superintendents shows special education has suffered more than other areas in many schools. The Governor’s Budget cuts resulted in larger class sizes, fewer teachers and fewer services.

Special education students thrive with one-on-one education.When budgets are tight, teachers are lost and students lose.

The most recent budget cuts come on top of a long history of poor funding for special education. The state reimburses schools only 26 cents for every dollar spent on special education and the federal government reimburses only 18 cents for every dollar spent.

Parents want the best education for their children. Parents with means are seeking private alternatives and want to use state money to do so. It seems to me the state needs to invest in quality education of all of our children. Sending public dollars to private schools is something we simply cannot afford.

A better approach would be a revamp of the state’s schoolaid formula to recognize that some students cost more to educate. The state should make sure schools have adequate resources to provide the one-on-one education some students need to learn.

The special education voucher bill is on the fast track. I expect the bill to be voted out of the Assembly soon. Passage in the Senate maybe less assured and will not come with my support.

Voters for Vinehout

P.O. Box 1274
Eau Claire, WI 54702